As I write this post, I am sitting in a dorm room at Tongji University’s Science Campus, looking out over a lush bamboo garden with picturesque walkways and bridges over slowly moving streams. In fact, I am sitting in the exact same room I was assigned upon my arrival to Shanghai from America fifteen days ago. That span of time that feels at once like yesterday and many months ago; yesterday because of our tight schedule and the excitement of seeing new things and meeting new people every day, plus the corroding effect that jet lag tends to have on memory. Months ago because of all we have learned, and how much our perspective has shifted. Yes, our work here has been a challenge, but there is a certain peace I have found standing behind soundproof glass, rolling dough and shaping it into a tight little pouch before placing it in the steaming basket as our guests stare and take pictures, sometimes waving to get our attention. If our ego has been at all inflated by our new-found celebrity, our coworkers’ expertise has helped to cut it back down to size, and then some. The men and women who were selected as the team to work in the first Third Generation store – the flagship location in Shanghai – are the elite of the elite. They are competition winners, veteran store managers and, because Tom would have it no other way, every one of them is a perfectionist. Jhonny, Gerry and I still clearly have much to learn.
To all of our surprise, they have actually begun to put some of our better bao into the steamer for consumption by the general public. No complaints have been reported to date. When we are not working our shift, we have been exploring Shanghai as much as possible. As I mentioned in one of our first posts, the scale of this city is beyond comprehension unless you have seen it first hand, from high up. It just so happens that Shanghai is home to several of the tallest buildings in the world, so finding a good vantage point should not be an issue. As chefs, I knew any trip to Shanghai with Gerry and Jhonny would be incomplete without a trip to the French Concession, an area of Shanghai famous for its old French style of architecture, robust international community, and globe spanning culinary history. For those of you who don’t know, I traveled to Shanghai once before this trip in 2009 at the age of sixteen. During that visit I ate at what I can still say is my favorite restaurant in the world (that doesn’t serve baobao). La Creperie is a restaurant designed to transport its guests to French Brittany, then stuff them with crepes, cheese, and Dijon Mustard, all for about twelve dollars. I could write pages about this place, but just like Shanghai itself, if you don’t go, you’ll never really understand.
So far we have completed two night shifts at the Chifeng road location, and will be completing two morning shifts on Monday and Tuesday before heading back to Hangzhou for the ADM (Asia Design and Management Forum), which we will attend from Wednesday to Friday. I am proud to announce that we have graduated from exclusively making bok choy, and have been entrusted with pork and curry beef bao. The secrets of the black bean bao (right) still elude us, but hopefully not for long…
On our day off we decided to give in and hit up some of the more popular tourist destinations Shanghai has to offer. First we took the spotlessly clean subway from Tongji University directly to the (in)famous Xinyang Market.
Xinyang is quite literally an underground market, and specializes in brand name apparel and accessories for extremely low prices. The catch is that you have to engage in some of the most aggressive bartering you could ever imagine, and navigate through a labyrinth of small shops with back rooms and secret compartments, all offering you a ‘best friend price’ if you buy just one more item. If you are prepared to be yelled at, chased after, and pulled by the arm in a heated debate about how much two pairs of sunglasses and a soccer jersey are worth, you can put a huge dent in your Christmas shopping list in an hour or so.
Next we emerged from the subway in the Bund, an upscale shopping district and the historical center of international banking and trading activity on the Huangpu River running, located in the heart of Shanghai. The UK, Netherlands, Japan, Russia, France and many other nations have left their marks here with classical architecture, consulates, and financial institutions that still line the water. However, the real show was across the river. The Bund provides a full panoramic view of the heart of Shanghai, featuring the Pudong area, famous for its record breaking sky scrapers, some of which have held the title of tallest building in the world in the recent past. Due to the clouds, I don’t think we ever saw the top of the tallest building, the Shanghai Tower, which is currently the second tallest building in the world at 2,073 ft. However, we did get a view of the Oriental Pearl (the red tower with the sphere up top) and the Shanghai World Finance Center. Due to the rain, and anticipating a 4:30AM alarm the next morning, we headed home early to get some rest. I can’t believe my trip will be over in just over a week! Thanks to our translator and tour guide, friend and occasional baby sitter Eva for showing us a great time and not letting us small town boys get lost!